Personal injury suits in civil law are not intended to make an accident victim rich. Instead, they are designed to restore the plaintiff, as much as possible, back to the position he or she was in before the injury. If a plaintiff was not at fault for the accident and suffered injury, high medical bills, lost income and even disability, the victim should be compensated. While money cannot make up for a disability or pain or suffering, it is meant to help ease the burden and make the individual’s life as “normal” as possible.
But is this enough? In some cases, these compensatory damages may not be sufficient to fully pay for the damage done to the victim. Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages because they are not intended as pay back for something the plaintiff lost. Instead, they are meant to be a punishment for the defendant for outrageous or extremely negligent conduct. This means that the defendant is punished beyond simply paying damages. If the defendant is made to pay extra money in punitive damages, others can see this example and learn that this type of conduct is unacceptable and will be severely punished. Punitive damages can also put the plaintiff in a better financial position than before the accident.
Punitive damage awards vary from state to state. In California, Civil Code § 3294 allows a plaintiff to seek punitive damages “where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud or malice.” If an individual is acting with extreme negligence, he or she can be found guilty of “malice.” Under the right circumstances, a plaintiff could win a multimillion-dollar punitive damage award.
Punitive damage awards can be controversial, and many states set limits on how much a plaintiff can receive. The California Supreme Court held that a reasonable range for a punitive damage award is between 3 and 10 times the amount of compensatory damages. Along with seeking punitive damages from a negligent defendant, some plaintiffs can seek punitive damages from an insurance company. For example, if the insurance company dealt with the individual in bad faith and failed to treat him or her fairly under the terms of the insurance policy, they could be found guilty and forced to pay punitive damages.
Since 2003, the Gilleon Law Firm, APC, founded and led by Daniel M. Gilleon, has enjoyed a reputation for a commitment to justice, high-quality legal service and a willingness to do what it takes to help our clients. We steadfastly protect the rights and interests of those we represent and are not afraid to take on complicated or tough cases. We can help you determine if punitive damages apply in your case and, if they do, help you seek them. If you have been injured and need representation in your personal injury case, call the team at the Gilleon Law Firm, APC.